All posts by Lauren McCann

Said Benrahma- The Algerian whose taken the Championship by Storm

Said Benrahma is the name on every Championship fan’s lips this season as a series of sparkling displays have highlighted just how talented the 24 year old is.

A quick search of his name on YouTube and you’ll find some of the finest highlight reels in football, including an ingenious double nutmeg on Middlesbrough’s Lewis Wimg this term.

He is so good at sliding the ball through a player’s legs that Brentford B coach Sam Saunders recently told the Guardian:

“He could nutmeg a mermaid.”

Yet, Benrahma is so much more than just a tricky winger.

He has been the Bees creative force this season, forming an impressive attacking trio alongside Bryan Mbeumo and Ollie Watkins (who have been christened Brentford’s BMW) netting fifteen goals and providing six assists in the league.

Routinely deployed on the left wing, Benrahma loves to cut inside on his right foot and deliver a cross or have a shot on goal. He is one of the most technically gifted players in the division, with his dribbling often leaving defenders in knots.

His contribution to Brentford’s promotion push since the restart has underlined his importance to the Bees, scoring five and assisting one as Thomas Frank’s side have won all of their games since the break to sit just two points behind second place West Brom.

Three of those strikes came in the weekend’s game against Wigan, with the winger clinically dispatching the relegation threatened side with relative ease. His first was a well timed volley, the second an inch perfect cross come shot after he had tormented Byrne and the third a well placed shot into the far corner giving Marshall in goal, no chance.

Manager Thomas Frank was full of praise for the winger’s display, stating in his post match press conference:

“I think in general he has had a good season so far, but he has absolutely hit the ground running after this coronavirus break.

“He has added extra to his game, such as arriving in the box, and these last four games he has been getting better and better,  with his passing and his finishing.

“I have to praise him for his work ethic. He worked extremely hard. He has been good, he needs to keep it up.”

A Benrahma inspired Brentford then came from behind against Charlton at Griffin Park to continue their march towards promotion with a 2-1 win. Benrahma won and coolly converted a penalty to equalise before the Bees scored a second to pick up all three points.

He caused problems for Charlton all evening as he occupied a more central role, picking the ball up in between the lines and playing neat interchanges with Watkins.

His form this season will come as no great surprise to those who watched him at Griffin Park in his maiden campaign in England last season. He managed ten goals and fifteen assists last year as Brentford finished 11th but Benrahma has taken his game to new levels this year.

He represents another shrewd bit of business from the London club, as he was picked up in the summer of 2018 from Nice for a fee of £2.8 million, after catching the eye on loan in Ligue 2.

Having come through the youth ranks at Algerian side NRB Bethioua, Benrahma moved to France, linking up with Balma SC Colomiers and then moving on to Nice. He made his debut for the first team in 2013, aged just 18 but spent the majority of his time at the club in the reserve side before going out on loan. He left Nice having made 17 appearances, scoring three goals.

His first loan spell came in Ligue 1 with Angers, then he dropped down to Ligue 2 and had stints with Gazélec Ajaccio and Chateauroux. It was at the latter, which he first started to show his undoubted potential and came to Brentford’s attention. He scored nine goals in 31 appearances, aged just 22 and Brentford decided to take a risk and snap him up that summer.

He hasn’t looked back since and the Algerian is now surely worth at least ten times the fee Brentford paid for him. With a host of Premier League clubs sniffing around him, Benrahma is likely to leave if the Bees don’t make it out of the Championship this time around, having already talked of his desire to play in the top flight.

A full Algerian international, Benrahma has won three caps for his country and comparisons are often drawn between him and compatriot Riyad Mahrez. Both started their journey in Ligue 2 before lighting up the Championship and both are silky wingers who enjoy nutmegging opponents and creating chances.

If Benrahma, who was nominated for the Championship Player of the Year, manages to emulate Mahrez’s career trajectory he may well go down as one of the best bargain signings the Championship has ever seen.

For now, his focus will be on finishing the campaign strongly and propelling Brentford to the big time.

With just four games left of the regular season and potential play off dates to come if Brentford can’t pop West Brom to second place, now is the time for Benrahma to show his quality and provide for Brentford when they really need him.

Man City Women snap up Chloe Kelly on Free Transfer from Everton

Man City Women have bolstered their ranks ahead of the upcoming WSL season with the signing of talented striker Chloe Kelly from Everton.

The England international, rejected a new contract with the Toffees to sign for the Citizens on a three year deal. She will wear the number nine shirt at City, and is new manager Gareth Taylor’s  first signing since taking charge.

The 22 year old started her career at Arsenal, scoring just 22 minutes into her debut against Watford in the Continental Cup in July 2015. She made a further 12 appearances for the Gunners, scoring two more goals, before heading to Everton on loan.

The club were in the WSL 2 at the time and Kelly made nine starts, netting twice, as Everton finished top of the table in the Spring Series. She then returned to Merseyside for a second spell when Everton were promoted to the WSL 1 in 2017.

She made the move permanent in January 2018 and hasn’t looked back since, playing 32 games and scoring 11 goals, earning plaudits for her terrific performances up front.

The majority of those strikes came in 2019-20 as Kelly enjoyed a stellar season. She bagged nine goals in just twelve games in the WSL before the campaign was abruptly ended due to the coronavirus pandemic as Everton finished sixth.

She declined to extend her stay on Merseyside, citing her need to challenge for trophies and to play in Europe as a determining factor in her switch to City.

Kelly is also experienced on the international scene having featured for the Three Lions from U15 level right through to senior level, making her debut for the Lionesses as a substitute in a 3-0 win over Austria in November 2018.

She was also part of the England U20 side who won bronze at the 2018 FIFA U20 World Women’s Cup and has since won three more caps for England.

Upon putting pen to paper, Kelly told City’s official website of her delight at joining the club:

“I’m unbelievably excited. I’m just so happy to have the deal sorted and I can’t wait to get going – I’m honoured to be a City player.

“Manchester City are a hugely ambitious club whose aspirations match my own and as soon as I had my initial discussions with the staff, I knew there and then that it was the place I wanted to be.”

She credits new manager Gareth Taylor, who has taken the reigns after Nick Cushing’s departure, for persuading her to choose Manchester as her new home, stating:

“Having spoken to Gareth too after he joined the team, I could sense immediately what a great manager he is and I was excited by the idea of working with him.”

The signing represents a huge coup for Man City, who were cruelly pipped to the title this season on points per game by Chelsea, who had a game in hand before the curtailment of the WSL.

Taylor expressed his delight at the signing to City’s official website:

“We’re thrilled that Chloe has put pen to paper to join us here at Manchester City.

“She is an incredibly exciting young talent who has broken onto the scene in the Women’s Super League and the England set-up in recent years, but there’s still so much more to come from her.”

City also announced that defender Gemma Bonner has penned a two year contract extension, with the 28 year old telling City’s site:

“I’ve had a really good two years, especially last season. I played some of my best football with some incredible players around me, so I can’t wait to continue that journey.”

The Telegraph has reported that City are close to further strengthening their squad, having agreed deals for Lyon duo Lucy Bronze, who left City for France in 2017 and Alex Greenwood who previously featured for rivals Man United.

They signed short term contracts to allow them to play in the Champions League with the French champions but they are set to leave once the tournament is concluded in August.

Starlet Jones Signs Long-Term Contract With Liverpool

Champions Liverpool received a timely boost on Saturday evening with the announcement that youngster Curtis Jones had put pen to paper on a new five year contract to remain on Merseyside for the foreseeable future.

The 19 year old, who became Liverpool’s youngest ever captain when he donned the armband for the FA Cup replay victory over Shrewsbury, had signed a new deal in August, but was rewarded for his performances this season with a bumper extension at the weekend.

It has been a breakthrough campaign for the Scouser, who has been at the club since the age of eight and worked his way through the various youth ranks to the first team. He made his Premier League debut against Bournemouth in December before scoring his first goal for the Reds, a stunning long range winner against Everton in the FA Cup in January.

He continues to shine at youth level also, netting nine goals and contributing five assists in 14 appearances in the Premier League 2 and scoring five in four games in the UEFA Youth League, including his superb hat-trick against Napoli.

Jürgen Klopp has huge faith in Jones, a centre midfielder by trade who can also play on the left or in a more advanced attacking role. He sees him as a direct replacement for the outgoing Adam Lallana, who will leave Merseyside once the current Premier League campaign ends.

Klopp and his staff and have been impressed with Jones’ showings this year and were keen to tie down his long term future at the club as they already look ahead to next campaign and the challenge of retaining their Premier League.

Upon signing his new deal, Jones told Liverpool’s official site, “For me, as everyone knows, it’s massive. It’s my boyhood club and it’s the whole of my family’s club as well, so for me it’s huge.

“I think the environment is all positive and keeps me as positive as I can. Of course, we’re working with a great manager and around the best team in the world, so for me it was easy and I’m extremely proud.”

 

Moroccan Right Back Achraf Hakimi Signs for Inter Milan

Italian giants Inter Milan have secured the signature of highly rated 21-year old defender Achraf Hakimi from Real Madrid.

Hakimi, who made 17 appearances for Los Blancos after rising through their youth ranks, has penned a five year deal with Antonio Conte’s side, who currently sit third in Serie A.

Dani Carvajal currently occupies the right-back spot at Los Blancos so Hakimi was unwilling to take a back seat after an impressive loan spell in the Bundesliga. This caused the Real Madrid youth product to request a move away from the Bernabeu.

Subsequently, Inter paid €40 million (£36 million) with €5 million add ons for the CAF Young Player of the Year winner. He was pictured in Milan for his medical on Tuesday, and confirmed the move on his official Instagram account this evening.

Real Madrid also released a statement on the departure of Hakimi saying:

“The club want to thank Achraf for all these years of dedication, professionalism and exemplary behaviour since he arrived at our academy in 2006 and wish him luck in this new stage of his career.”

Hakimi has spent the past two seasons on loan in Germany with Borussia Dortmund, where he played 70 games, scoring 12 goals and striking up a potent partnership with Jadon Sancho on the right flank.

He put in some particularly impressive performances in the Champions League, providing a hat-trick of assists against Atletico Madrid last season, before scoring braces against both Slavia Prague and his new employers Inter in this year’s group stages.

Lucian Favre tended to use Hakimi as a right wing-back in a 3-4-2-1 formation, given his ability to attack at pace and deliver pin-point crosses. He is also defensively, very sound, adept at playing long balls which open up opposition defences.

It is likely Conte will utilising the Moroccan in a similar role, given his reputation for setting teams up to play with a three at the back and having creative wing-backs as attacking outlets.

Hakimi is equally capable of playing as a winger, having featured there during his days in Real Madrid’s academy, whilst he can also slot in at left back.

At just 21 years of age and with over 100 senior appearances to his name, Hakimi is certainly a very exciting signing for Inter as they look to challenge Juventus.

The Nerazzurri have not won the league title since 2010 and acquiring a new superstar in Hakimi will certainly make them a formidable opponent in Serie A next season.

Written by Lauren McCann and Jonathan Abraham

League of Ireland Given Green Light to Resume On 31st July

The FAI have announced that League of Ireland is set to return on 31st July after a vote by clubs this week.

The 2020 League of Ireland season had been suspended after just five games as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, with Shamrock Rovers sitting top having won all their games to date, three points ahead of last year’s winners Dundalk.

Sligo Rovers are bottom of the table, having failed to pick up any points in their first five games, while Cabinteely are the current leaders of the First Division.

All teams will play 18 games, including those which have already taken place, a condensed version of the 36 game season in the Premier Division, with 27 games taking place in the First Division.

Promotion and relegation are still in place, including play offs, after clubs chose this out of the four options presented to them from the National League Executive Committee, as the best format to continue the season.

There will be automatic promotion and relegation whilst the ninth placed team in the Premier Division will face the winner of the playoffs (comprised of the second, third fourth and fifth placed teams) from the First Division, the first time this has been introduced, after it was proposed ahead of the start of the current campaign.

The sticking point surrounding the restart of the league was largely the relegation proposition, with many clubs unhappy at the prospect of two teams being relegated in a reduced 18 game season.

The Premier Clubs Alliance yesterday wrote to the FAI on behalf of the majority of the clubs in the Premier Division to express their dismay at the promotion and relegation scenario in the current option taken to restart the season.

They believe the National League Executive Committee, who made the controversial call, was ill advised and called for an immediate investigation into their decision from the FAI.

Waterford and Sligo, were two of the clubs to publicly criticise the proposal, with Sligo releasing a statement which reads:

“This format was of particular disappointment to the club and is something we sternly object to. We believe it is grossly unfair, unjust and do not see the matter as concluded.”

Fixtures for the return are still to be announced and it is not yet clear whether spectators will be allowed in the stadium.

The government have said that outdoor gatherings of up to 500 people will be permitted in the Republic of Ireland from the 20th July, which could open the door to a limited number of fans being allowed to attend games.

Many clubs have been training since the start of June, in staggered groups. In accordance with FAI guidelines, they can schedule friendly matches from the 11th July, 10 days before the proposed restart.

In a statement, FAI Interim Deputy CEO Niall Quinn said:

“It’s good that we can now start to look towards a return date and also that we have clarity on what the fixture list will look like and the plan for the rest of the season.”

The FAI also declared that they are committed to playing out the 2020 FAI Cup, albeit in a slightly different format.

Quinn explained:

“What we’ve discussed at this point is that the eight quarter-finalists will complete the FAI Cup after the SSE Airtricity League season has ended, and they will be rewarded for getting to that point, to help them financially for the remaining Cup matches and the longer season.”